NORTH WILDWOOD — A dispute over the management of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse has led city officials to change the locks on the lighthouse’s doors to keep out the current operators.

On Monday, North Wildwood Solicitor William Kaufman sent a letter to the nonprofit Friends of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, informing them the facility would remain locked until a professional curator could take inventory and determine what items inside belong to the local government or the nonprofit.

The curator is scheduled to begin taking inventory Monday.

“It is clear that there is a disagreement between the Friends and the City regarding ownership of items within the lighthouse,” the letter said. “Therefore ... the locks on the lighthouse will be changed and no persons other than employees or State of New Jersey personnel shall have access to the interior of the lighthouse until each and every artifact, document or item of personal property that presently is within the lighthouse has been inventoried and cataloged and ownership of each item is definitely established.”

Steve Murray, chairman of the Friends of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, said city officials, particularly North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, are “petty” and the move was just a power play to take over the lighthouse.

“This was a punch in the gut,” Murray said. “It’s as low as you can get.”

Murray added several members of the Friends have put personal items in the lighthouse for decoration, including his great-grandmother’s dining room table, an antique rocking horse and an old train set that goes around the Christmas tree.

North Wildwood leases the lighthouse from New Jersey. Friends of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, however, operate the property through a contract with the city.

Rosenello said there have been issues with the Friends over how they run and maintain the 143-year-old lighthouse. The city’s issues include the group’s leadership not turning in annual reports and bungling a state Department of Transportation grant application that cost the city $17,000, he said.

After locking up the lighthouse, Rosenello said, city officials discovered a list of items Murray planned to take from the lighthouse illegally, including an old tax map that belongs to the city.

“Our decision to lock them out was absolutely the right thing to do,” Rosenello said. “(Murray) was planning to loot the lighthouse.”

Murray disputed the claim, saying the list is an inventory list of every item in the lighthouse that he compiled for the professional curator.

“It’s just one lie after another with this guy,” Murray said of Rosenello. “He’s gone completely off the wall.”

Murray also has disputed the other claims the government made, saying he turned in annual reports every year and the Department of Transportation came back five years after the grant application to say there was an issue. At that point, the man who had written the application was retired and seriously ill. By the time they hired another firm to fix the application, the Department of Transportation skipped a grant payment of $17,000, he said.

Murray said the Friends have contacted a lawyer and are waiting for advice on their next steps. The city intends to take over operations Jan. 1.

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I joined The Press in January 2016 after graduating from Penn State in December 2015. I was the sports editor for The Daily Collegian on campus which covered all 31 varsity sports and several club sports.

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